Find New, Personal Ways to Say ‘Thanks’

No one will ever turn down a cash bonus, but when you want to show employees your appreciation, a personal touch and a big announcement are often just as valuable as money – and all three together are the best bet of all.

Many firms have Employee Appreciation Days; some, like Omaha, Neb.’s Bland & Associates and Murphy, Murphy & Murphy, in Cypress, Calif., go a little further and have Employee Appreciation Weeks, full of meals, fun outings and events.

For a less immediate payoff, a number of firms offer sabbaticals for employees of long standing, allowing them a chance to pursue a personal goal or lifelong dream, or just to have a long break to recharge. The staff of Birmingham, Ala.-based Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, for instance, are eligible for a four-week paid sabbatical after 10 years, as are the employees of San Antonio’s ATKG.

But the best forms of appreciation don’t have to take days (let alone weeks or years), and can be much more individually oriented – without costing much. Crowdsourcing recognition of great people is one approach. In Colorado, for instance, Anton Collins Mitchel has a unique e-mail set up so a person at any level can send a “You Rock!” e-mail “to recognize someone for a job well done,” and at Raleigh, N.C.-based Hughes Pittman & Gupton, employees nominate co-workers for "Lifesaver Awards" – “Winners’ offices are decorated and Lifesaver Awards are read aloud at a monthly celebration meeting,” the firm reported.

At Johanson & Yau, in San Jose, Calif., meanwhile, the firm hands out random “Thank you” gifts to staff – but makes a point of tailoring them to match specific employee interests.

Our favorite example of showing individual appreciation, however, comes from Las Vegas’ JW Advisors. They wanted to thank their director of first impressions, but rather than hand her a check, they bought her a plane ticket to Kentucky to visit her adult children, because they knew how much she missed them. While she certainly would have enjoyed receiving a gift card or check for the same amount as the flight, it wouldn’t make her tear up the way the thought of that very thoughtful plane ticket still does.

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